Take a Step Off the Soapbox (Rule #7)

speakerMany ministry professionals find themselves advocating for the needs and concerns of the people with and among whom they serve. Advocacy is incredibly important, especially when it is for those who have no voice or whose voices are not heard.

But advocacy without inquiry can become a blaring horn that eventually fades into background white noise.

And when two individuals advocate from opposing positions, they can almost cancel each other out.

In my young adult years, I had the blessing of teaching at an all-girls’ high school. A new teacher–new to the school, new to teaching–I had ideas, great (!) ideas, on how to improve the faith life of the school. And, as you might expect, no one took me seriously.

“You’re new.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” “This is the way we have always done it.”

Thankfully, my department chair had the soul of a wise man, and listened very carefully to everything, taking in and storing what might have value sometime in the future.

We spent two years of formal and informal meetings talking through my biggest idea–making all-school Masses optional–possible. And all he did was ask me questions. Lots of them.

Question after question. Why optional? How did we expect the students to respond? What issues would the teachers raise? What strategies did we want to propose to address those strategies? What was our mission-based reasoning? Lots of questions.

About midway through my third year, we met with the administration, and made our proposal. This wasn’t the first time that they had heard this proposal from us, and their faces showed it. So we posed the questions that we had identified, and offered the answers that we had discussed. We invited more questions from them, and responded as best we could.

As it turned out, “as best we could” was good enough.

By combining advocacy with inquiry, we had turned the somewhat inevitable “clash” that many of us experience when pushing a particular program or position into a dialogue by building the bridge from advocacy to inquiry. And we demonstrated right from the start that we had questions, too.

In the end, they agreed with our proposal. (And it was very successful, by the way! More than we had anticipated.)

We had moved advocacy away from being a clanging bell that the administration wanted to silence to a starting point for deeper, greater, and shared advocacy. In the end, campus ministry and the administration were partners promoting a Eucharist-based and -rich faith life in the school. A win-win for everyone.

Turn On the Light

lightThe first two words I heard were “darkness” and “death.”

The various media commentators used these words, reflecting on Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday. “Darkness” and “death.”

Our public and political discourse seems to have given voice to a deep-seated anger and frustration that has expressed itself in unkind, even violent (physical and verbal) behaviors.

We have seen “easy” words (“We’re angry”) become “easy” actions (shootings, brawls).

And in direct contrast to that, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” and “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

Light and life. Words we cherish and enshrine in a Constitution and Catechism. Actions that we honor with National Medals and canonizations.

Regardless of how dark and angry our environment, businesses, parishes, or Church may become, we are called to be light — always — in the world. To stand up for what is good and right, to model Christ’s response to the darkness and death that he encountered in his world. To offer faith instead of faithlessness, healing instead of pain, a path forward instead of a pit downward.

One of the stories and pictures that has stayed in my mind lately has been that of the protesters who were joined by police — joined, not opposed by.

Faith instead of faithlessness. Healing instead of pain. Forward instead of downward.

Light instead of dark.

The Rules: Important Words

fenceOne of the most stressful parts of a new job for me has always been learning the “rules” of how the office works, how people interact, what is expected of me, and what I should expect of others.

One boss I had did our entire staff the great favor of inviting a consultant in, and teaching us a set of rules to work by. They weren’t magic words, but when adhered to, they eliminated some potential landmines, reduced tensions, and made it possible to work through conflicts.

This post is one of a series of posts featuring each rule.

Rule #1: Agree on what important words mean.

A word like “rules.” Is a rule only in writing or can they be “unwritten”? I once worked in an office where the unwritten rule was to never question when the supervisor arrived at work even though it was often hours after everyone else.

An important tool in discovering what the important words are is to listen carefully to how colleagues phrase questions and even what they complain about.

A friend and colleague taught me a lot about the first. I had pulled together the text for a resource, and had gotten to the point where I was no longer a good judge of how good or bad it was or what was highlighted well and what was missing. So, I asked, “Can you give me some feedback on this now?” as I extended a printed copy to her.

Her response was fabulous! “Do you want whatever I can tell you now or do you want my best response?” She taught me about how important it is to be specific, especially in my questions.

Same office, different colleague on complaints. “It isn’t perfect.” Surely something we have all heard ourselves say as some point in time. At that point in time, striving for perfection was slowly killing us, partly because we all had slightly different definitions of. Me? I’m good with anywhere between 95-98% perfect. Not so my colleagues.

After a brief discussion, we arrived at a new and common definition of “perfection.” We decided that we were striving for excellence, not perfection, and recognized what some of the boundaries are around achieving excellence.

So, what key words are essential in the culture of your office? What do you think they mean? What else could they mean?

 

Following His Lead

DRThe announcement of the new Archbishop of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Francisco Ozoria Acosta of San Pedro de Macorís, has surprised some, but also appears to continue the pattern that Pope Francis has established elsewhere around the world.

He appointed someone with a strong pastoral background like himself, someone of the people who has walked with the people he shepherds.

Whereas the cardinal (his predecessor) has the classically European features of the upper classes, the new archbishop looks, and sounds, like most mixed-race Dominicans. . . Ozoria Ocosta told journalists this morning that he was a “passionate follower of the Second Vatican Council, above all of the ecclesiology of communion that underpins our national pastoral program.” . . He said his goals as archbishop would be to “give continuity to the Church’s mission,” get to know the archdiocese, and to perform the three tasks of a bishop of shepherding, educating and sanctifying. (Crux, July 4, 2016)

With summer comes some time to look at the type of leaders we want to raise up and nurture in our pastoral programs. As you look back on the last year or so, how would someone describe the leaders you have selected and developed? Is there a pattern? What would you want that pattern to be?

As you look ahead, what kind of leaders do you want to have when next year ends? What one thing can you do to make that happen.

Having reached the pinnacle of summer this weekend, the downhill side is ahead — and the time is now to begin to set our leadership planning in motion. Posts in the next few weeks will include ways to help you make progress on developing strong pastoral leaders.